A series of tragedies in Italian hospitals over the last few months have spurred a number of media reports recently that paint a generally grim picture of the country’s medical facilities.

But American military officials across the country expressed confidence Thursday in the local arrangements in place with facilities around bases in Naples, Sigonella, Vicenza and Aviano.

“The quality of care within our network of Italian hospitals and private physicians is excellent,” said Dr. (Col.) Michael Schaffrinna, a doctor and the commander of the 31st Medical Group at Aviano.

“Quite honestly, many members … owe their lives to Italian medical practitioners.”

Aviano has the newest military hospital in the country. The Navy has hospitals in Gricignano (Naples) and Sigonella. But all communities regularly refer Americans to local hospitals, mainly for emergency care and operations or specialties they can’t cover on base.

“We use it primarily for the emergency room, surgery and pediatrics,” said Dr. Steven Slack, chief of patient liaison services for Americans at the San Bortolo hospital in Vicenza.

He said Americans make about 1,400 visits to Vicenza’s hospital a year, with another 140 visits requiring overnight stays. The Army has a liaison service that provides translation services and support throughout the stay, Slack said, echoing similar comments by the Air Force and Navy. American officials routinely inspect facilities and practices in the hospitals where patients are regularly referred, officials said.

While Vicenza refers most patients to a single nearby hospital, Americans in Naples are sent to a variety of hospitals, depending on their needs, said Lt. Cmdr. Wendy Snyder, a public affairs officer with U.S. Navy Region Europe.

“The Navy has a long history of working with the local hospitals,” she said.

According to reports by ANSA, an Italian news agency, and Affari Italia, an online newspaper, hospitals in the region of Campania were among the most scrutinized during a nationwide inspection, conducted by a special branch of the Carabinieri in January, of more than 300 hospitals.

According to Affari Italia, 21 of the 29 hospitals inspected in the region that includes Naples had “administrative” problems. The region with the most reported problems was Calabria, according to the report, followed by Sicily and Lazio.

Attempts to get a list of specific hospitals investigated were not successful.

According to the Affari Italia report, fewer than half of the country’s hospitals were inspected on Jan. 8-9. No problems were found in about 46 percent. About 36 percent had administrative problems, with about 17 percent judged to have more serious problems. Two facilities in Sicily associated with hospitals were temporarily closed.

The investigations were prompted by a media report focusing on problems in one of the country’s largest hospitals in Rome.

Since the investigations, a number of high-profile incidents have occurred, including:

The death of a 22-week-old baby last week in Florence that was aborted after the mother was told that scans had revealed a potential deformity. Personnel unsuccessfully tried to revive the baby after it was discovered there were no problems. The incident has prompted an outcry by the Catholic Church and abortion opponents.Three patients mistakenly received transplanted organs from an HIV-positive donor from the same hospital a month earlier.A 19-year-old who was receiving cosmetic surgery last week on his nose in a private facility in Pavia, near Milan, went into a comatose state during surgery and died, according to ANSA.In January, a 16-year-old girl undergoing an appendectomy in a hospital in Calabria lapsed into a fatal coma when the power went out during surgery.According to an ANSA report, between 4,500 to 7,000 patients die annually from infections they've received while in Italian hospitals. It said infections are considered a factor in the deaths of another 21,000 patients each year and as many as 700,000 patients contract nonfatal infections in hospitals each year.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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